HEAL OLD WOUNDS
TWO major steps to Church unity were suggested by Metropolitan Athenagoras of Thyateira, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Britain, preaching in Westminster Abbey last Sunday.
First, he said. the Roman and Greek Orthodox Churches shoUld withdraw the mutual excommunications issued in 1054 when the Great Schism occurred.
Second, he suggested the re-examination of the whole question of the validity of Anglican orders.
Who was preaching at the United Service of International Christian Witness, had taken as his theme "Our March towards Christian Renewal". He began by raising the question how far England could still be considered a Christian country.
Many people today, he said, presented an unduly despondent picture, suggesting that organised Christianity was everywhere in retreat. Such an estimate was misleading and one-sided.
England, he argued, was still suffering from the demoralising effects of the last war. On all sides could be seen the "symptoms of tired souls, a moral and spiritual fatigue". The prevailing religious indifference was one aspect of this.
TEMPORARY MALADY But it was a temporary malady which would he gradually overcome. During the 15 months since he had arrived in England he had been deeply impressed by many signs of vigorous life in different communions.
He believed, however, that grave harm was being done by those who today chose, with a maximum of publicity, to proclaim a kind of "religionless Christianity". "These I call 'preachers of schism', for they advocate a schism, a division, between Chrisianity and religion, reducing the Gospel to schemes of thought that are altogether inadequate to express its supernatural message."
Quoting from a recent issue of the Church Times, he asked: "Why are so many of today's ordained ministers so seemingly anxious to sow doubt in the hearts of believing Christians?"
One of the chief obstacles to an effective Christian witness before the world was undoubtedly the fact of Christian division. So one of the most inspiring developments for the future of Christendom was the contemporary movement towards union.
PROLONGED TASK Reunion would prove a painful and prolonged task. "The nine centuries old schism between East and West and the four centuries old schism among Western Christians cannot be terminated in a few decades."
There was. for example, no immediate prospect of intercommunion between Roman Catholics and Orthodox, despite the new and marvellous spirit of friendship.
But the difficulties were far from insuperable, he said. The first step would he the withdrawal of the "unhappy and ill-considered documents" of excommunication issued by the then Papal Legate, Cardinal Humbert, and the Patriarch Michael CeruIarius in 1054 which marked the beginning of the schism between the Orthodox Church and Rome.
Speaking of Anglican Orders; Metropolitan Athenagoras suggested that the Encyclical A postalicere Curse, issued by Pope Leo Mir in
1896, condemning Anglican Orders, should be "re-examined in the spirit of today's ecumenical concern".
Would it not be preferable, asked the Metropolitan, "to leave the question of the validity of Anglican Orders as it was in the 16th century, as it was in the days of Augustine and Theodore". Such measures as these, he said. would help to heal "the sixth wound in the Body of Christ which is still open and bleeding. "Today, as never before in the last nine centuries. Christians are growing closer together ... If we continue as we have begun. little by little we shall be guided to the miracle of true unity in faith and worship."